So what does Mass behavior really look like for various ages and stages? Here is a quick run down of our expectations and strategies as our children have developed.
There are different styles of parenting and there are various levels of acceptable Mass behavior depending on where you fall on the spectrum of acceptable childhood behavior. I’m not here to say my way is right and your way is wrong, but I am hear to tell you how we have managed to make it through Mass with our four little ones.
What’s Our Family REALLY Like at Mass…
You may be wondering what you would see if you sat behind our little family one morning at Mass. We aren’t a picture perfect family by any stretch of the imagination. Our littles put their feet up on the raised kneelers, slump in the pew, drop song books during quiet moments of prayer, and raise their voices above an acceptable level multiple times during the course of the service. But, in general, our children participate in Mass (to the best of their ability), are politely quiet, and keep their bums in the pew.
Quite often after Mass, we humbly receive compliments on our children’s behavior. After receiving such a compliment, I often reply by placing the crown of parenting glory on my husband’s head. It is a simple fact that were we not on the same page, our children would be running amuck throughout the entire service. I see so many fathers sitting on the sidelines at Mass (if they come at all). My heart goes out to you mothers who have a non-participatory husband. Sweet reader, if your family is cut from this fabric and you want to see change in your children’s behavior, you will need to bring your family and especially your husband to the Lord in prayer. Yes, you can make some changes on your own, but it is so much easier when dad is on board.
What can you expect?
Mass Behavior for Babies (Newborn – 9 months)…
Our littlest ones often sleep through Mass. (I have NEVER had a baby sleep in their carseat through the entire Mass. (If you are a parent of a child who does this consistently, please let me know your secret!)
I try to avoid nursing during Mass, but will when I know baby is in need of a snack or will doze off with a quick top off.
If the baby starts getting loud enough that I know people around us will struggle to hear, I take them to the back of the church. Usually the change in elevation (from seated to standing) cheers the baby up. If baby continues to be loud, I move to the church’s entrance way.
(WARNING: You will be bombarded with distractions when you exit the sanctuary with a baby. Mentally fortify yourself against perusing all the reading material at the back of your church!)
When baby starts eating solids, I will often bring a bag of Cheerios to give them one by one. It is hard for baby to make too much noise when their mouth is filled with the oaty goodness. I tell the older kids beforehand that the snack is just for baby.
As our babies hit teething age, they really like to chew on things. To avoid the missal becoming a chew toy, I pack one or two teething toys in the diapers bag for this purpose.
I like to whisper to baby what is happening at the Mass. Even if baby isn’t taking in what I say, hearing mommy’s voice helps entertain and soothe them through the service.
Jesus is coming down to be with us.
Alleluia, God, we love your Holy Word.
This is the part where we give thanks to God.
We don’t let baby crawl around on the floor or out into the aisles. They are to sit on our laps as quietly as they can (which sometimes isn’t very quiet at all!). There is no discipline for our babies at this age; we just make the best of their temperament and the situation at hand.
Expectations: Baby is to remain in the carseat or a lap as quietly as possible.
Strategies: Nursing, standing in the back of church, and mess-free snacks.
Mass Behavior for Older Babies (9-24 months)…
Babies reach an age where they are more troublesome during Mass, but also more responsive to correction. This usually happens anywhere from 9 to 15 months.
No more Cheerios, no more toys.
My husband and I usually switch rolls at this point. When baby starts getting fussy or squirming to crawl around on the floor, I hand them away. My husband usually takes the little one to the church basement and sits them on his lap. Baby doesn’t get to crawl around. Instead, he will sit on Daddy’s lap for the duration of Mass. Daddy usually wraps baby in a big bear hug. There is no spanking involved, but after a while of unsuccessfully fighting to get off Dad’s lap, baby gives in and will sit quietly. The pair often return before the end of Mass.
Expectations: Sit quietly in the pew or on a lap without crawling around or wriggling to get on the floor.
Strategies: Daddy’s Big Bear Hug
Mass Behavior for Toddlers and Preschoolers…
Once baby goes through this little training period, they will usually sit quietly through Mass. There is always the occasional time when a child has to be taken out due to misbehavior of some sort, but in general, we fumble through. We try to keep the youngest ones close to us so we can help them through Mass. I’m often whispering in their ear not only telling them what is going on, but encouraging them to participate.
Get ready to sing Alleluia, it is coming up.
Can you sing “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy?”
Get ready to cross yourself.
I’ve found that if I can teach my children the responses at home, they like to participate at Mass. I also encourage them to genuflect, kneel, stand, and sit at appropriate times.
Another helpful tactic we have found is prepping the kids on the way to church. We will do a quick review of appropriate Mass behavior and encourage them to act accordingly.
Our toddlers and preschool children quickly learn that Sunday is treat day. These treats are often donuts served after Mass in the church basement or mom’s homemade coffee cake when we get home. We aren’t above taking these treats away for poor behavior during Mass.
Expectations: Sit quietly, genuflect, kneel, and stand when appropriate, and participate to the best of their ability.
Strategies: Pre-Mass Pep Talk, teaching Mass responses at home, keeping them close, and loss of a treat.
Beyond the Littlest Littles…
If you lay a good foundation, there is very little to train for beyond progressively being more involved in the Mass. Our oldest is often flips loudly through the song book and missal, but we overlook that. We can tell it stems from his heart’s desire to follow along and participate in the service.
Most of the training for this age takes place outside of Mass. Taking time at home to learn about what is happening at Mass, memorizing responses, and fostering a relationship with Jesus are great things to work on at home.
Expectations: General good behavior with increasing participation.
Strategies: Pre-Mass Pep Talk, learn responses, and begin to understand what is happening at the Mass.
What are your expectations and strategies for Mass?
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